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Insomnia and Over-the-counter Medications

Written by sshowalter, ColleenO.

Self-treatment of insomnia with over-the counter-drugs is advisable only for ocassional or short-term insomnia. Non-prescription sleep aids should only be used for a short period time in conjunction with non-drug approaches such changes in sleeping habits. Long-term of these drugs may result in dependence.

Effect of Over-the-counter Medications on Insomnia

People who experience occassional insomnia may benefit from non-prescription drugs that are known to cause drowsiness. Some over-the-counter anti-allergy drugs contain antihistamines. These drugs make you drowsy because they work against histamine, a chemical messenger in the brain which promotes wakefulness.


This is the most common antihistamine used as a non-prescription sleep aid. Some drugs contain diphenhydramine alone, such as Nytol and Sominex, while others contain combinations of diphenhydramine with pain relievers, such as Excedrin P.M and Tylenol P.M.

Doxylamine succinate (Unisom Sleep Tabs)

Doxylamine is used as a short-term treatment for sleep problems.

Read more details about Over-the-counter Medications.

How to Use Over-the-counter Medications



To treat insomnia, the usual dosage of diphendydramine is 25-50mg orally taken 30 minutes before bedtime.

Doxylamine succinate (Unisom Sleep Tabs)


Doxylamine's dosage required to induce sleep can be as low as 6.25 mg, but is usually effective in dosages of up to 25 mg. Doxylamine may be taken with food or milk if stomach upset occurs. You may take this drug 30 minutes before bedtime. The sustained-release tablets and capsules must beswallowed whole, crushing or chewing them may increase side effects and destroy it's long-acting properties.

The fact that OTCs are available without a prescription does not mean that they are not completely harmless. See individual products for more information.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that OTC cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants or children less than two years old. Rare but serious side effects have been reported, including death, convulsions, rapid heart rates, and decreased levels of consciousness. The FDA is still reviewing data about the safety of these products in children aged 2-11 years, since serious side effects have also been reported in this age group.


Side effects

Diphenhydramine may leave patients feeling drowsy the next day. This drug may not be very effective in providing restful sleep. Common side effects include: constipation, dry mouth and difficulty urinating. Diphenhydramine may also worsen the symptoms of asthma glaucoma,heart problems and prostate gland enlargement.


Diphenhydramine exagerrates the sedating effects of alcohol and other drugs than can cause sedation such as the benzodiazepine class of anti-anxiety drugs (such as diazepam lorazpam,alprazolam), narcotic pain medications (such as hydrocodone) and certain antihypertensive drugs(such as clonidine and propanolol).

Doxylamine succinate (Unisom Sleep Tabs)


Common side effects of doxyclamine include: nausea, dry mouth, stomach pain, constipation, blurred vision, ringing in your ears an dizziness. Call your doctor if these side-effects persist.

Seek emergency medical help if you have any of these signs an allergic reaction such as hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience serious side effects sush as: fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeat; confusion, unusual thoughts or behavior, severe dizziness, anxiety, nervousness, difficulty in urinatins, unusual weakness, fever and flu symptoms.


Anti-allergy medicines, narcotic pain relievers, other sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, medicine for seizures, depression or anxiety can increase the sleepiness caused by doxylamine. Inform you doctor if you need to use any of these other medicines while you are taking doxylamine.

Before taking doxylamine, tell your doctor if you are using any of the following drugs:a diuretic (water pill); bronchodilators such as ipratroprium (Atrovent), medications for irritable bowel syndrome; bladder or urinary medications, aspirin or salicylates or other antihistamines, or medicine to treat motion sickness. If you are using any of these drugs, you may not be able to use doxylamine, or you may need dosage adjustments or special tests while on treatment.


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